The Other Side of Hope
Acclaimed Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki brings his minimalist style to The Other Side of Hope, starring Sherwan Haji and Sakari Kuosmanen. It’s an unashamedly political comedy-drama, with Haji playing Khaled, a Syrian refugee who arrives in Finland somewhat unintentionally after being separated from his sister.
Kaurismäki’s minimalist style presents The Other Side of Hope as a piece of visual poetry – characters stand there mostly expressionless against a dull colour palette with deadpan delivery to their lines. Silence and subtlety are the filmmaker’s best friends and work well when he explores Khaled’s wordless frustration as an asylum seeker being processed by the Finnish immigration system. At times, this generates an apt atmosphere that paints the protagonist as being a more reactive character, going with the flow until the third act where, out of desperation, he takes ownership of his situation. The subtlety also works well to sombrely depict the refugee crisis without appealing to sensationalist elements. The violence in Khaled’s homeland is not shown on screen and for the most part his challenges in the film stem from bureaucratic ineptness and indifference, which helps to portray Finland as a nuanced environment for citizens and refugees. Kaurismäki avoids sensationalism in refusing to portray the country either as a racist hellhole or as a paradise. He depicts racist brutality of course, but also devotes time to highlighting the people who help Khaled – albeit not in a sentimental manner.
Of course subtlety works best when characters have interesting histories and personalities. The plight of Syrian refugees is a tragic and interesting topic. But running concurrently alongside Khaled’s narrative is Wikström’s story. At the beginning of the film, he’s a businessman who leaves his alcoholic wife and struggles with establishing another business. The slow-burn pacing of the movie and lack of emotion might work for Khaled’s story but doesn’t serve to make Wikström an engaging character; in the first and second acts, his scenes can feel meandering at points and might have been improved with more substance. Honestly speaking, there isn’t much to make the audience care about Wikström.
True to Kaurismäki’s style, The Other Side of Hope is worth a watch for those who appreciate his sarcastic, terse and ironic humour. It misses out on being a superb movie, but the director manages to capture some genuinely moving and funny moments.
The Other Side of Hope is released on 26th May 2017.
Watch the trailer for The Other Side of Hope here: